St. Nicholas: A Puppet Play
by Virginia Stevens
St. Nicholas: A Puppet Play helps children and their parents understand the origin of Santa Claus traditions in the St. Nicholas legend. Challenging popular Santa customs, the play suggests that anonymous giving to people in need is more in keeping with the spirit of Christmas than the “getting” that goes with the Santa tradition. This play offers a way to address the ironic distortions which have occurred in the progression from St. Nicholas, who gave to the poor, to Santa, who gives only to those who can afford him.
St. Nicholas is useful as a church, community or home production. It can be the feature presentation at a Christmas festival; or it can be an important part of a workshop for parents who want to change Santa traditions in their homes. The play is also a good way to involve youth groups in alternative Christmas activities.
The play was written with a “Punch and Judy” type performance in mind. With a few adaptations, the “Muppet-style” puppets or various other forms can be used instead. It is also possible to use live actors.
Sets are as follows:
For Scenes One and Three: Inside a poor home with a fireplace. The chimney should be visible outside the house on the roof (above the traditional stage; behind the large, open Muppet-style stage). A simple whitewashed background with a few painted-on cracks and a painted-on shelf with dishes is sufficient. Although there were no windows in the homes of poor people during St. Nicholas’ time, one may be painted on if it seems necessary to complete the feel of the inside of a house.
For Scene Two: Village square lined with medieval houses.
Props: Broom, 2 small “oranges,” bouquets of flowers (tiny dried flowers work well), money bag, table, 2 pallets.
The Bilir Family
ADA, 14 years old
OLIVIA, 16 years old
IDA, 12 years old
NICHOLAS, a young seminarian
JOHN, Nicholas’ colleague
MRS. SAHED, an unsympathetic neighbor
Costumes: Dress the Bilir family in simple medieval costumes. Use clerical collars and black shirts for Nicholas and John. A re-dressed witch gives a good “feel” for Mrs. Sahed.
Inside Bilir home; table near front of stage.
ADA: [Moves in back stage humming and sweeping; looks up at audience.] Oh, hi! [Moves toward front of stage.] How are you? [If no answer, she may prompt one.] That’s great! Say, I know there’s a lot going on here today. I’m glad the organizers of this Christmas celebration let us have a part of the program. [This can be modified to suit the occasion.] By the way, my name is Ada Bilir. Any other Ada’s here? Well, I want to tell you the story of my family. Let’s see, there’s my older sister, Olivia and my younger one, Ida. That makes three girls in all. Then we have a mother and a father. We live in Myra, a small village in Turkey. We have a pretty normal family, except we are very, very poor. And folks who are poor always have a rough time. But in Turkey in the fourth century, things are really rough because if parents don’t have some money or jewels for their daughters, no one will marry them! Then the girls will have to become slaves. [Shuddering] Oh-h-h. I wouldn’t want to be a slave, would you? Uh-uh! [Shaking head] Not me. No way. But that’s what is going to happen to Olivia, Ida and me because we don’t have money or jewels for dowries. That’s what they call the money and jewels—dowries. Our parents are so worried! What are we going to do? What can we do? [Moves back a bit and resumes sweeping.]
IDA: [Runs in carrying two oranges.] Ada, Ada! Guess what! I found two oranges today and they’re only a little bruised. Aren’t they wonderful? [Puts oranges on table.]
ADA: [Moves forward to table.] I’m proud of you, Ida. But, little sister, we need more than that to eat tonight. Maybe Olivia also had luck and sold some flowers to the rich people in the village. Let’s go find her. [Puts broom in corner.]
IDA: I’ll bet I know where she is. Come on. [Pulls her sister toward offstage “door” as Mother comes in wearily.] Oh, hello, Mother. We’re going to find Olivia. Be back soon.
MOTHER: Fine, girls. But don’t be long. [Girls leave.] Now how shall I feed the family tonight with only a small piece of bread? [Notices table.] What’s this? It looks like Ida has been out looking for food again. Well, at least we will have a bit to eat tonight. Maybe Anton has had a good day at work.
[Knock at the door.]
MOTHER: Yes? Oh, come in, Mrs. Sahed. How are you today?
MRS. SAHED: [Bustling in] Terrible, Mrs. Bilir, just terrible! My back! I cannot take a step without pain. No one suffers like I do! [Notices oranges.] My goodness, fruit! And only a little bit rotten! [Sarcastically] Well, you will certainly have a feast tonight, huh?
MOTHER: Yes, that’s Ida’s doing.
MRS. SAHED: Lovely daughters, you have. Of course, who needs daughters? Now, my sons… ,
MOTHER: They’re good girls and… .
MRS. SAHED: But they are girls. And you and your husband have enough problems without having three daughters.
[Mother picks up broom and begins sweeping with her back to Mrs. Sahed.]
MRS. SAHED: Now don’t you ignore me. I know the story. There is no way your poor husband can earn enough money for those girls of yours to have dowries. No way!
MOTHER: Please… .
MRS. SAHED: You have to face up to it. Your daughters have no dowries—no money, no jewels. Nothing! So no one will marry them. Olivia is already sixteen—time for her to leave home. You must know that you will have to sell her into slavery.
MOTHER: [Angrily] That’s enough! There are plenty of problems without your reminding us. Now, I must fix dinner.
MRS. SAHED: I’m just trying to help. After all, plenty of girls end up in slavery because they are too poor to get husbands. But I can tell when I’m not wanted. [Turns jerkily and strides out.]
[Mother puts her head down over her hands on broom and shakes as if crying.]
Village scene. Scene begins with Ada in front of the closed curtain.
ADA: Our village is like many other villages, except we have a seminary. That’s a special school where boys study to become priests in the church. There are many students in that school, including Nicholas and his friend John.
[As she finishes, the curtains open and Olivia walks in front of houses at the back of the stage, carrying flowers. Ada moves off as curtains open.]
OLIVIA: [Calling out] Flowers! Flowers for sale! Fresh from the countryside! [Ada and Ida come hurrying up.]
IDA: Hi, Olivia. I found two oranges that are almost fresh. Come on home now and see them! We will be eating soon.
OLIVIA: Yes, I’ll come. I’m really tired—and hungry!
[As the girls walk off backstage left, Nicholas and John enter front stage left and take note of them. Nicholas looks backward at them.]
NICHOLAS: Aren’t those the daughters of Bilir, the baker? They look so happy.
JOHN: That they are. But I’ve heard that their happiness will soon be gone, for Mr. Bilir has hardly enough money to feed his family. There is nothing for dowries. The oldest girl, Olivia, will soon have to go into slavery since no man will marry her without a dowry.
NICHOLAS: [Disgusted and angry] Such a stupid custom! Dowry, indeed! As if a girl is like a pig or a cow to be bought and sold!
JOHN: Easy, easy! Don’t get all over me. I didn’t set up dowries. You’ve got to learn to accept life as it is, Nicholas. Besides we have plenty to worry about already. We will be having tests at school soon. There is too much to learn and too little time to do it.
NICHOLAS: [Half listening] Yes, yes, I know. It’s important to serve God by doing well. But still … it’s so unfair! Here I am. I have more that I need and those poor girls have nothing… . [Thoughtfully] It’s just not right.
JOHN: Nicholas, I can’t stand around here wasting time. We can pray for those girls and their parents - after we’ve studied for the Latin test tomorrow. [Turns and leaves.]
NICHOLAS: [Pacing] It’s not fair. [Turns to audience.] Do you think it’s fair that I have more money that I need and the Bilir family has almost nothing? [Prompts response.] Neither do I! What can I do? [Stops as if in thought, children might respond, but it doesn’t matter either way.] Listen, listen. I am remembering some verses from the Bible. Why, yes, in St. Matthew it says that if someone has two shirts he ought to give one of them to another person who doesn’t have any! And to share food, too. [More excitedly] And, oh, we just learned some verses last week in school. Let’s see. What were they? [Pauses] I know, in First John it says that if someone has enough and doesn’t help another person in need, the person with enough can’t rightly say the love of God is in him or her. I want people to know God’s love in me. Don’t you? Well, then I’ll have to figure out a way to share with the Bilir family. But I must do it secretly because the Bible also says we are not to make a big deal of what we do for others. The Bilir family shouldn’t feel like they owe me something just because I’m doing what God has told me to. I must make plans… . [Hurries off.]
Inside Bilir house. Two pallets are in view. In one, Father is tossing back and forth. Mother is beside him. In the other, the three girls are sleeping.
FATHER: What can we do? No matter how hard I work, there is never enough money to feed this family, let alone put together dowries.
MOTHER: I know. We all do our best, but it just isn’t enough. If we don’t get our sleep, though, we’ll be in worse shape.
FATHER: Oh, I know. Well, goodnight. [Makes motions as though turning over.]
[PAUSE - maybe with a few sleeping movements and sounds. Then audience hears scratching like someone is scaling a wall.]
OLIVIA: [Sitting up and speaking in a stage whisper.] Ida! Ada! Do you hear that? Wake up!
ADA: [Sitting up and looking around.] What? What are you talking about? Are you awake?
IDA: [If possible, she can pull blanket over her head; otherwise, she sits up.] I hear it! Someone’s climbing up the wall. I’m scared. Papa! Mama! Somebody’s on the roof! Somebody’s going to get us!
[Nicholas appears moving across the roof carrying a money bag and cautiously approaches the chimney.]
FATHER: Huh? Huh? [Father and Mother sit up.] What’s the matter? [Looks up at the roof.] What next? If a robber has come to visit, he sure has made a bad mistake!
MOTHER: Quiet down. We must do something!
FATHER: [Getting out of bed.] Well, we’ve nothing her but a broom. Where is that broom? [Looks around, but just at this moment Nicholas drops the money bag down the chimney; the sound of the bag hitting the floor should be heard. At the sound of the money bag hitting, the girls scream.] [Mother goes to chimney and leans over and picks up money bag. Nicholas looks down the chimney, then at the audience and smiles, then listens at the chimney.]
FATHER: What’s that?
[Everyone gathers near Mother and moves around excitedly with remarks such as, “What can it be?”]
IDA: It looks like a sack of money!
MOTHER: That’s exactly what it is. My goodness, it’s heavy, too. Who would give us this fortune?
ADA: Yes, who could it be? [Turns to audience.] Do you know? Have you seen anybody?
[Nicholas is almost hiding on the roof, but he shakes his head vigorously and puts his finger to his lips with a “shhh.” Ada and the others continue to try to find out from the audience. They may come to the front of the stage and look up, as if to the roof, but Nicholas ducks as they do. If the audience does name Nicholas, the family may look at each other puzzled, with statements like, “Nicholas?” “Who is he?” “I think there is a student named Nicholas studying to be a priest.” “But it cannot be him.” “Why should he care about us?”]
MOTHER: Well, this certainly is a mystery. But one thing is sure. There is enough money for all three of you girls to have dowries. And so it is no mystery that God came to our house tonight.
[Everyone hugs each other and bounces up and down - moving toward the back of the stage - except for Ada.]
ADA: Yes, a special gift was given us that night by someone who took seriously God’s word to share what we have with others. Nicholas shared with us. Whom will you share with? Think about it.
Author Virginia Stevens is the Presbyterian Hunger Action Enabler for Asheville, North Carolina and the coordinator of an ecumenical hunger awareness group. She has helped to organize several successful Christmas festivals in the Asheville area.
Used by permission of ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living.
“Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly”
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